Rustling out the creases of the map, we studied our next move, trailing our gaze along the Pacific Highway. It wasn’t too long before we realised that most roads in Australia follow very simple and straightforward rules: merge onto the highway and put your foot down. The perpetually long roads may not appeal to the restless, but the simplicity of driving over here is a blessing and makes any road trip in Australia seem feasible. It’s a comfort to any driver, especially one who endeavours to reach the other side of both country and continent in an enormous 4×4 with spongy breaks and stiff steering.
Our next stop was Coff’s Harbour, just over 300 kilometres north. A large coastal city, it is renowned for its glorious beaches and ‘Big’ monuments. Interestingly (and rather bizarrely) Australia is home to a countless collection of ‘Big Things’ dotted in various states around the country. These enormous sculptures stand proudly as iconic landmarks, capturing the attention of every tourist’s camera for miles. Coff’s Harbour boasts a gigantic banana, a big bunch of bananas, a giant slurp and a large windmill. Australia’s other Big Things include a huge bench in Broken Hill, a massive prawn in Balina, a great chunk of cheese in Bodalla. a mammoth-sized wine bottle in Pokolbin. You can also marvel at the enormity of other strange creations like a Big Cherry, a Big Coke can, a Big Glass, a Big Axe, a Big Bowling Pin, a Big Helicopter and even a Big Santa and a Big Chocolate Bunny for us all to gawp at any time of the year. There are copious big fruits and even a Big Fruit Bowl to satisfy your five-a-day photo collection if you aim to snap all of these big beauties. We still to this day do not fully understand the significance behind the ‘Big Things’ but we have to applaud the Aussies for their creativity and sheer randomness.
As the sign for Coff’s Harbour flashed into sight, we had one clear destination in mind. Alarmingly short on fresh, clean clothes and desperately seeking the assistance of a washing machine, our top priority that evening was to take care of our personal hygiene. We were now down to our last pair of pants, and although this may have been less of a concern for Matty who would have quite happily travelled the rest of Australia stark naked and liberated, I had made a personal vow: never commit to smelling like a tramp – there is nothing less friendly than tormenting the nostrils of other people with a musky, green cloud billowing along in your wake. As darkness engulfed Coff’s Harbour that night, we found ourselves following the trail on Google Maps to a peculiar site on the farthest side of town offering a few limited trade and food services. Most of the shops however were closed for the day.
One thing you will learn quickly if you travel to this country, especially if you’re a busy-bee Brit like me or you just appreciate efficiency and convenience, is that most of the services in Australia have absurd opening hours and tend to close early especially at the weekend (as you can imagine, this was irritatingly common in the outback) and if you ever need anything done, it will have to wait till Monday… weekends are reserved for relaxing.
Nestled between the shaded stores was the brightly lit, cupboard-sized laundromat. Thankfully it was still open, so we rushed inside clutching our big bundles of mud-splattered, sand-crusted, sea-stained rags. We ripped off the bedsheets from the mattress and dumped everything in the machine. After everything was washed, laundered and smelling like a field of fresh daisies, we returned to the car satisfied with our productive night. However, Jenny had been abandoned for less than an hour and in that time had received a sticky new coat to her bright yellow sheen. Dribbling down the side of her door was a clear brown, glossy liquid. The stench of vinegar clung to her paintwork and hung thick on the air. In the time it had taken us to wash our clothes, someone had crept over like a clandestine and surreptitious comic villain, probably armed with a portion of chips, and bathed her in what looked like half a bottle of vinegar. Much to our amusement as to why someone would do this and what benefit they would gain, we drove onwards with a car reeking like a fish and chip shop.
Our first impressions of Coff’s Harbour had taken a sudden plummet, and feeling slightly dubious about camping there, we made our way to an empty car park as recommended on Wikicamps. For anyone camping or travelling, this is an extremely useful mobile app and comes highly recommended from Matthew and I. It has proved to be very helpful when we are on a frantic last-minute, ill-prepared hunt for a place to stay. It offers you a map of all the available campsites and points of interest that are located in close proximity to your destination. It provides comments and reviews written by other travellers which has proved to be a dependable source of entertainment. However, the app’s suggestion for an overnight stay in an abandoned parking lot stationed next to a block of public toilets was slightly questionable. We were toying with the idea of fleeing from Coff’s Harbour and moving swiftly on. This would have been the right choice; we would’ve only been shuddering with nerves all night had we anxiously awaited the condiment criminal to strike again, maybe this time with weapons of more of a destructive nature like chilli sauce or salad dressing or thick, goopy yellow mustard to really hurt Jenny’s natural colour. But we soon realised as we stepped outside the car and heard the distant crashing of waves that we were mere steps from the shore. Beneath the glow of the full moon, we trailed to the beach, blown gently by the cool breath of sand and the blustery, salt air. The sky was a dark veil drawing the world behind a velvety shadow. The stars danced on the night’s stage before an inspired audience of wish-makers, photo-takers, deep-thinkers and glass-clinkers. We were mesmerised. I had fallen irrevocably in love with this country.
The following morning however, the scene changed. We willed ourselves to take a desperate, ice-cold shower outside the public toilets. Shivering but clean, we set off to explore the area on foot. We trudged up a steep hill and meandered around the twisted boardwalk over the peninsula. Eventually, we reached a secluded little beach and it was there that we slumped on the sand lethargically and rested for a good couple of hours. Despite the winter’s nip on the air, we lathered ourselves in Factor 50+ sunscreen, conscious of the merciless Australian rays and the fear of burning to a crisp. It was a wonderful afternoon, but before too long the sun was low in the sky. Without another moment’s thought, we were back on the road again searching for a spot to camp for the night. We ventured to a national park called Yuraygir, almost 500km northeast of Sydney. We were soon to discover that we had once again stumbled upon another spectacular sight; another gem to add to our cherished bank of memories.